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Interview with David Sobell, John Mica

Aired June 26, 2003 - 19:39   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get him! He's got a gun!



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In the future, Arnold Schwarzenegger can be seen clearly as a transparent two-dimensional figure, at least to the movie "Total Recall." But some day soon, you, too, might have to do the virtual buck naked stroll thanks to new X- ray technology tested for airport security.

Now the question remains, are Americans, are we willing to let screeners see everything in the name of security?

We'll pursue the debate in a moment, but first, we wanted to see and I mean see the nuts and bolts on how this thing works. Peter Williamson joins us now, a sales security executive with Omnisystems, one of the companies that makes the scanners.

He's from California.

All right, Peter, lets get right to it.

How does this thing work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, the Security 1,000 Body Scanner by OSI Systems operates on back scatter technology where the human is scanned, the reflected items are bounced back on to a series of detectors, stored behind the front surface of the Secure 1,000 and then a digital image is produced of contraband hidden on the person's body.

COOPER: Can we see it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can show you right now if you like. What we'll do, for example, you have a carbon fiber knife which is not metallic. Typically not going to alarm or be detected via traditional security methods.

I'm going to ask Jerry to store it, hide it on his person, if you will. He simply talks up to the Secure 1000. Holds still. Push the scanning button. Scan the both and front takes six seconds approximately per scan. Operates on very low dosage X-ray energy. Now we're scanning the backside. And as you can see, virtually instantaneously, you do get a digital image of anything.

COOPER: Let's get a close look at the image.

How invasive is it?

What are we looking at here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what you're looking out is an outline of the body. It distorts the body so it's not recognizable in the future. Facial content is hidden entirely.

COOPER: You see the knife there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. What I can see looking at Jerry, a couple of pens and an American flag on the pocket. In here, he's got an object which I'm not 100 percent sure what it is, but something am certainly going to want to take a look at it. And it turns out to be basically a plastic shrouded box cutter. More importantly, stashed under the belt line or...

COOPER: Lets go back to the video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... or the coin area.

COOPER: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can clearly see something that doesn't belong in the image. And turns out it is a block of plastic explosive stimulant, in this case, C-4.

COOPER: Now if that was not...


COOPER: If that plastic explosive stimulant was not there, you would basically see his private parts?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would see the outline of his body, yes.



COOPER: What stage of development is this in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The product is developed, been deployed. We have approximately 100 units out there in the marketplace right now operating at a variety of airports, prisons, border crossings, diamond and gold mines in some cases.

COOPER: And in the United States, similar device, I think in the Orlando Airport being tested right now?

Is that correct? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Being tested in Orlando under the ASTC Advanced Check Point Technology Program. However, U.S. customs has been a customer of ours for past three and a half years. They have got approximately 18 units.


COOPER: OK. Peter Williamson, I appreciate you showing us how the technology works, thanks very much.

Of course, the better this new technology works, the more raises questions about whether it should be used at all. Now since September 11, the familiar question of how much security is worth the sacrifice of how much privacy?

There is still no consensus. Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems very invasive. I'm not comfortable with it as a woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People that are looking at X-ray are not going to see me again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not going to bother me a bit, because I imagine we're all about the same. All the women anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some things should be left alone. Blur some of it out.


COOPER: Joining us from Washington, David Sobell, general council for Election Privacy Information Center and we have Florida Congressman John Mica, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Gentleman, appreciate you joining us.

Congressman, let me start with you.

Do you really want a security scanner at an airport to see your private parts?

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: First of all, I don't think we're going to deploy anything that does detect private parts. What we're interested in what was demonstrated here, plastic explosives that do not show up now in 1950's X-ray technology that detects metal. Also, the type of weapons that you saw that are nonmetallic. These terrorists we know who waited from 1993 to 2001 to attack us have already plotted with Richard Reid and will plot with others to take down aircraft and do damage.

We have to have technology deployed that will detect these other type of threats that are very real. OK. David Sobell, does this thing go too far?

DAVID SOBELL, GENERAL COUNSEL ELEC. PRIVACY INFO. CTR.: Well, Anderson, I think for the average citizen who doesn't have strategically placed explosives on their body, this is extremely invasive technology. It was interesting that...

MICA: I don't think you heard me. I said no one's going to deploy anything that shows body parts from the government.

SOBELL: Well, at the moment, the technology apparently does. There was a sorted press photo that ran widely today including on the CNN website, and if you look at that picture, which was from a demonstration at TSA conducted yesterday, it's extremely invasive, so I'm happy to hear that maybe it's not quite ready for deployment. But I think we have to be very careful about the degree of invasive we subject citizens to.

I think the American public is more than willing to abide by reasonable security measures at the airport. We've been doing it for almost two years now. People don't complain. But there are reasonable limits, and I think this is a technology in its current state, at least, that clearly goes too far.

COOPER: Congressman, you say that none of this will be deployed, but as you know, it changes very fast and just gets more and more efficient and things will become clearer and clearer.

Isn't this the type of the iceberg in terms of what people may be able to see?

MICA: It's been very sad for the flying public and for security for now and in the future as a lot of people have raised red herrings. First of all, we won't deploy anything that does show body parts. What we need to do, though, is get technology that does detect the type of weapons and explosives you just saw. This is a real threat. Now, some of the research and development has been delayed. Some of the deployment and testing has been delayed because of some of these red herrings that have been raised. We can't afford to wait and I have in the security legislation the that we passed a requirement that we move forward in an expedited basis and we will.

COOPER: David, what do you think?

Are these red herrings?

Is this, in fact, endangering the American public because just abiding this, talking about it slows the deployment of the devices?

SOBELL: With all due respect to the Congressman, I don't think that the very serious privacy issues raised concerning security measures, particularly in airports are red herrings. The fact of the matter is that TSA is an agency that seems a little bit daft coming to privacy concerns, and the technology that was demonstrated yesterday is not the only issue. TSA is also proposing a so-called Caps 2 Program which effect has background checks on millions of fliers before they get on planes.

This would look at financial information, past travel history all kinds of information about individuals as a condition of boarding a plane. So I think there are very serious privacy issues that do need to be debated and I certainly don't think it holds back security at all to have an informed and open public debate about these issues. They're very serious and the American public is justifiably concerned about the privacy issues that surrender some of the security measures.

COOPER: Congressman, do you have any concerns at all that some unscrupulous security screener misuses the technology for personal enjoyment?

MICA: Well, first of all, the technology needs to be taken a step further so that we have software and we have a developed product that doesn't show any private body parts. Also, as we go forward with the new passenger profiling, Caps 2, we put in legislation that the House has passed in committee this past week that I have sponsored that has protections. So we're concerned about privacy, we don't want TSA or any other government agency to go beyond the boundaries. But we also have to put in place mechanisms both for deterrence and for security that do provide real protection, not false sense of security like walking through a metal detector.

COOPER: Leave it there tonight, Congressman John Mica, David Sobell, Appreciate Both of you joining us, thanks.

MICA: Thank you.

SOBELL: Thank you.


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